Billboard Now Counts YouTube Plays, so "Harlem Shake" is Number One
If the "Harlem Shake" is still confined, to some degree, to a 30-second clip and among the kind of people who consume memes semi-professionally, "Gangnam Style" was almost certainly the most broadly heard song on earth last year. It crossed every possible demographic--age, race, language, web browser. And it never topped the Hot 100, because its 1.3 billion YouTube views didn't count for anything.
Lord knows it's difficult to get away from Maroon 5, but whatever the Billboard Hot 100 was measuring late in 2012, when "Gangnam Style" was continually thwarted by "One More Night" for the top spot, it wasn't the way people listen to singles in 2012.
There are still a lot of arguments to have about the Hot 100's methodology for its new formula; are people really listening to "Harlem Shake," in the short bursts that have made it famous, or is it just a glorified sound effect, a cue?
But it's hard to argue with the decision they made. For a generation of people who hate Spotify's low-production-value commercials and/or really want to make racist comments while they listen, YouTube is the radio. Billboard could adjust to that, or it could watch as its most important property stopped measuring popular culture and started measuring the way one particular demographic consumes music.
So here's to you, Baauer. You're not on the front page of your own YouTube search page, but you do have the most unavoidable song in America. And you've forced Billboard to measure it. As of this morning, the complete version of that No. 1 megahit has... five million views.